Santa Monica is often considered the pearl of Los Angeles, for good reason. It is home to world-renowned attractions, vibrant beaches, and fantastic dining options. Santa Monica offers a little bit for everyone, including families. With that in mind, our favorite family-friendly attractions in Santa Monica are here.
Visit the beach
Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is arguably the most famous landmark in Santa Monica. While most piers just offer a nice walk out to sea, the Santa Monica Pier is full of fun amusement rides for the whole family. Older kids can enjoy the exhilarating roller coaster, while younger ones can enjoy a gentle ride on the merry-go-round. The Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier is probably the best place to watch an iconic California sunset. The pier also hosts special events year-round. This includes film screenings, a concert series, live plays, and yoga sessions. Visiting the pier is free, but rides and special events will charge for admission.
Palisades Park covers 26.4 acres and stretches for 1.6 miles, making it a great spot for long walks or picnics. Within the park is Camera Obscura Art Lab, a public studio space for local artists. At the lab, you can watch artists construct their craft.
Museum of Flying
Perhaps the most exciting attraction is the MaxFlight FS3000 flight simulator. This is a fully immersive flight simulator that moves in 3D space. Be sure to empty your pockets if you plan on doing any barrel rolls. There is also an interactive area where children can enter open cockpits. Guests are also welcome to visit the local control tower radio, where they can listen to live air traffic communications while viewing the runway of the Santa Monica Airport.
Heal the Bay Aquarium
Formerly known as the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, the new Heal the Bay Aquarium is located near the entry point of the pier. The Aquarium is a family-friendly education center for learning about local aquatic life. It is designed to inspire a sense of conservation through discovery and interaction. The aquarium has over 100 species on display, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in marine biology without getting wet. The gift shop is full of zero waste products, many of which were crafted from recycled water bottles. Kids under 12 can enter for free; it is only $10 for everyone else.
Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome
The Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome is located near the Santa Monica Pier. While the hippodrome doesn't have any live chariot races, it has one of the world's most beautiful merry-go-rounds. It was designed by famed architect Charles Looff, who is often considered the grandfather of merry-go-rounds. Many of the horses were handcrafted with wood, as this merry-go-round was built in the early 20th century. The hippodrome and merry-go-round are entirely indoors, making it a nice escape from the sun.
Santa Monica Surf School
California is one of the best places for surfing in the world. It provides a nice outdoor activity and allows you to connect with the coastal lifestyle. Of course, learning to surf can be quite challenging. Many newcomers to Southern California need to find some kind of surf school. There are many to choose from in Santa Monica, but the Santa Monica Surf School may be the best.
The school has classes designed for beginners, and group sessions are available for families. Sessions include prep instructions on the beach before entering the water. Instructors can even mount GoPros to your board to help you create family mementos. If your kids want to become great surfers, Surf Camps are available for kids 9 and older during the summer.
Located on the Gathering Hill is a grassy amphitheater. Throughout the year, the city hosts family-friendly plays that are free to attend. Within the park is the aptly named "Super Awesome Kids Splash-Pad." This is a gentle splash pad slide that is great for younger kids. The park employs many "Goodwill Ambassadors" to help keep it family-friendly.
Santa Monica History Museum
Perhaps the best part of the museum is the "Hands on History" events hosted on select Saturdays. These events are specifically for children aged 5-11 years old. Hands-on History entails a history lesson followed by an arts and crafts session.
John Drescher Planetarium at Santa Monica College
There are generally two shows every Friday. The first one at 7 p.m. tends to be educational, and the second show at 8 p.m. is more entertainment-based. No matter which shows you choose, it is family-friendly and recommended for kids over the age of 6.
Santa Monica Playhouse
The theater also hosts plenty of workshops for kids. These are held year-round and help children tap into their creative side.
PAINT:LAB is a walk-in art studio that allows visitors to see artists working on their pieces. It is a great opportunity for kids to learn about all the hard work that goes into the creative process. PAINT:LAB also offers drop-off workshops for kids aged 6-12. These are typically only available during the summers. On Sundays, the whole family is welcome to attend group workshops. Kids' parties are also available for booking.
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